January 2014


Written by Marshall Berman

Berman describes Goethe’s Faust as the first and best tragedy of development. In this section, he describes Faust’s growth into a larger self through development - but a development that always has a dark side. “He won’t be able to create anything unless he’s prepared to let everything go, to accept the fact that all that has been created up to now--and, indeed, all that he may create in the future--must be destroyed to pave the way for more creation. This is the dialectic that modern men must embrace in order to move and live; and it is the dialectic that will soon envelop and move the modern economy, state and society. Berman believes that with modernism comes an irony and tragedy in all forms of modern enterprise and creativity, “an merging economy of selfdevelopment”. An unhindered gospel of development would read: accept destructiveness as part of your share of divine creativity, and you can throw off your guilt [arising from a relation with nature and fellow human beings whereby one takes what one needs for one’s own development and leaves the rest] and acts freely. No longer need you be inhibited by the moral question, “Should I do it?” Out on the open road to self-development [authenticity], the only vital question is, “How to do it?” What matters is process, not the result: “it’s restless activity that proves a man” (175-60). The pressure of modernism is to use every part of ourselves and everyone else to push ourselves and everyone as far as we can go. The growth is real, but it always comes with a cost. It is this gospel of development that is the irresistible pull of modernity. The lesson that Berman announces is that those in modernity must take a share of responsibility for the development of those coming into it. Where man or nature is affected, Faust must confront the consequences of his own emerging nature, or be responsible for the doom inflicted. One thing, though, you can’t go back to a time before modernity. To do so would be to suffer again the death of the pre-modern against the riptides of the in-rushing modernity.

What Faust, and we, ultimately long for is a way of dealing with modernity in which man does not exist for the sake of development but development for the sake of man.